2012 has already seen some new, unique events show up on comics ever expanding convention calendar, but come September, comic events will earn an installment even more specific, intimate and maybe even a little strange with MorrisonCon.
Announced earlier this year, the weekend event celebrating the work of best-selling writer Grant Morrison will officially debut at the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas during the weekend of September 28 to 30. CBR News spoke with organizers Ron Richards of website iFanboy and retailers James Sime and Kirsten Baldock of The Isotope to learn first of MorrisonCon's specific plans. Tickets for the show will go on sale on May 9 at Noon PST on MorrisonCon.com with only around 1,000 packages available to meet Morrison and a lineup of other guests which as of today official includes Gerard Way, Frank Quitely, Jonathan Hickman, Chris Burnham and J.H. Williams. Aside from a number of smaller panels, signings, parties and events, attendees will also get an early copy of Morrison and Darick Robertson's incoming Image series "HAPPY" as well as Deluxe Hardcover MorrisonCon Program Guide/Sketchbook.
Below, Richards and Sime delve further into their plans for MorrisonCon, detailing the show's origins, the other boutique media events that had an impact on its planning, the special surprises they plan for the Las Vegas weekend and the acclaimed writer's own role in making the weekend a standout con-going experience.
CBR News: Guys, let's start with the big picture history of the event. Many comic fans know you guys separately from your work in the overall community, but how was you both hooked up to start planning an event like this, and who was it that first called the other and said, "Hey...Grant Morrison convention"?
Ron Richards: James and Kirsten and I have been collaborating for a few years now. Since maybe '06, right?
James Sime: I've always listened to iFanboy, and I met Ron and his crew at San Diego Comic Con a few years ago and said, "Hey, you guys put on a great show. Let's go for drinks." And it's been a friendship ever since.
Richards: So we've co-sponsored events at Isotope and did our Tiki Tours.
Sime: We had the "Walking Dead" bar crawl with Robert Kirkman.
Richards: Exactly! So those were fun ways for the two of us to work together, and of course I shop at Isotope. So really the genesis of this was just us talking about comic cons and say, "Man, these aren't always about comics anymore" and those kinds of conversations you have at the bar. I was going on to James and Kirsten about [boutique music festival] All Tomorrow's Parties and how "It was so cool because it was this festival, but there were only 3,000 people, and wouldn't it be cool if there was some kind of focused comic event..." and James just stopped the conversation and went "Grant Morrison."
Sime: MorrisonCon! [Laughter]
Richards: Yeah, he said the name MorrisonCon, and we just went from there. We've actually planning this for two years now.
Sime: We've been secretly planning this in the background. My whole mission in the world of comics...the whole reason The Isotope exists is because that's the comic book store I always wanted to go to. And no one would make it, so eventually I said, "Fine, I'll just build it." I'm sure Ron would say the same thing about iFanboy. Sometimes you've just got to build it yourself. And MorrisonCon is really just an extension of that belief. If you want cool things to happen, maybe you could wait for other people to make them a reality, but sometimes you've just got to do it yourself.
Conventions have become a huge part of the industry over the past ten years more so than any other time in the history of the medium. And while there are a number of big, media-focsed shows, there are also more specific things ranging from Image Expo to the alt/indie festivals like MoCCA, SPX and APE. What about conventions as a scene overall gave you the confidence to put this together, or what kind of specific events did you look to in centering a show around a creator?
Sime: We really like the vibe of the small, indie cons. And we know that's tough to do if you've got super big giant names signed on, but why can't you try?
Richards: Yeah, part of this has centered around how much fun you can have at MoCCA or SPX or APE when it's small and you can get that intimate feeling. We've also talked to some folks involved in some of the European shows that happen. I know there are a couple of shows in Spain we looked at and things like Angouleme that remain really focused and interesting.
Sime: We wanted something a little more casual. Less about the churn and burn of bodies and more about the churn and burn of ideas.
Richards: Exactly. And also, you know what it's like to try and make it through the con floor of San Diego. Can you imagine being a Grant Morrison fan, and trying to see and interact with him at that show? MAYBE you can wait two hours in line at the DC booth and get something signed and be rushed off. And now even there are caps on the lines at San Diego or New York Comic Con. So if you want to see Grant Morrison, you're going to have to sit in the back of a giant room and watch him on the video monitors. That's not a connection.
Sime: There's a friend of mine, and when I see him at San Diego Comic-Con, I have to sit in one of those rooms and watch him on TV like that. And I know that Grant is a great guy and really likes to talk to people and be around fans and communicate ideas, so there's got to be a more intimate way to make that connection between fans and creators. It takes your average, everyday comic fan who isn't a pro and gives them the pro experience.
Richards: And I should say that unlike other conventions, we didn't want any lines or waiting. We wanted to turn everything that we always grouse about at conventions around and do it kind of classy. It's a challenge, but we have some ideas.
Sime: We have cool ideas on how to meet that challenge. We do a lot of events at Isotope where we've been able to minimize lines for huge rock stars, so I think there's a way to do it.
Let's talk about the logistics and the specifics here. You're looking to cap attendees around 1,000 people. I'm assuming there may be a few more than 1,000 people interested in going to LAS VEGAS to hang out all weekend with GRANT MORRISON. What are the challenges of pulling off an event and keeping it at this size?
Richards: Part of that is the experience. This isn't San Diego or C2E2 or even SPX. What we've done is partnered with the Hard Rock Hotel in Las Vegas, and we've negotiated some great rates for our attendees. What we're offering is, again, like the All Tomorrow Parties model where our ticket price includes your hotel for the weekend.
Sime: One of the challenges of Vegas particularly is that there's so much fun stuff going on that everyone can scatter in that city if you give them the opportunity to. What we wanted to do was give everyone the opportunity to hang out together. To me, that's what's really exciting. We're taking over a hotel! It's a hotel of awesome comic nerds curated by one of our favorite awesome comic nerds...
Richards: Who also happens to be a rock star. So the Hard Rock is psyched for this. No PR bullshit, they've been super cool and right away said, "We want to partner with you on this." So tickets go on sale May 9 at Noon Pacific time/3:00 PM Eastern. It's going to be first come, first serve, and we're at a maximu of 1,000 people total attendance. The packages come for a single person in one room at $699, a double package for two people at $1099. We've got really Grant Morrison names for these so the single package is the Singularity, and the double package is the Polarity package.
Sime: And there's also a locals package for people who live there at $499. And we know there's a little sticker shock with those numbers, because what con has ticket prices that high? But if you look at going to any con and staying at a hotel, it's really not that much more. It's fairly comparable. We really wanted to make this intimate experience out of it, so it's different. And we don't have exhibitors or an artist's alley.
Richards: This isn't a commerce con, so there are no dealers or things like that. It's going to be discussions and panels and an art gallery room.
Sime: J.H. Williams will be selling original art and the like. Those are the dealers at the show – they people you're going to see.
Richards: So those packages will be available on May 9, and then come June 15, the tickets will go up $100 each, which is basically a deal for booking early. And everyone who attends the con will get a limited edition exclusive copy of "HAPPY" by Grant and Darick Robertson from Image Comics which will premiere at the show. We're also doing a deluxe hardcover programming guide/sketchbook that will be filled with sketches from the artists attending where you'll have spaces for more sketches and autographs.
Sime: That will be something cool. Something you haven't seen yet.
Richards: And since our reputation proceeds us, we're going to throw some bitchin parties every night of the con. A package gets you into that where we take over the bar at the hotel each night.
Sime: When you think about other comic conventions – and I go to a lot and love them – they always kick you out at 5:00 and say, "Get out of here!" At this one, it's Vegas, and we're going to take over the nightclub and the whole casino with all the creators.
Richards: Grant will be DJing. We're going to have some other guest DJs. It should be pretty great. One of our guests in Gerard Way. We haven't confirmed if he'll DJ or not, but I mean, he's in My Chemical Romance. We assume he'll want to be involved with the music.
It seems like limiting attendance and selling tickets in these packages might also limit some of the financial questions and operating costs for you guys and allow you to focus more on guests and events. What can you say about that side of the equation?
Sime: When we first talked to Grant about this, I was sitting at a table in a restaurant with him and his wife Kristan, and I said, "Grant, what I envision is you and Jonathan Hickman sitting in a room together doing a panel called 'Splitting The Atom.'" I was just throwing ideas out, and you should have seen Grant's eyes light up with the magic sparkle of Grant Morrison-ism. It was a beautiful thing. So the creators are people that Grant and we have worked to combine ideas on in terms of who it would be excited to have along.
Richards: Since the idea was to have this curated by Grant as well as ourselves with an eye towards keeping things small, we decided to limit the guest list to ten special guests. And in that group, we wanted to focus on people who have worked with Grant, people inspired by Grant and people Grant finds inspiring. Of the ten people total, we're announcing this week the first give of Gerard Way, Frank Quitely, Jonathan Hickman, Chris Burnham and JH Williams III. To give you an idea of the kinds of events we're doing, we're throwing parties on Friday and Saturday...
Sime: And we're tailoring what we do to the guests. We can ask them, "What do YOU want to do at a show like this? What do you think it'll be fun to do to get in front of a crowd of people and talk about?"
Richards: For example, we know Sundays at shows can be kind of burnt out, so on Sunday we'll have "Chris Burnham's Sunday Hangover Breakfast and Sketch Jam." We'll have a breakfast for all attendees, and Chris will be on stage doing some sketching that's projected on a screen. He'll be taking requests from the audience and talking about his process.
Sime: And we'll have some cool music to help nurse your hangover.
Richards: So we're really building the panels and programming around the creators. We can expect to see a lot of process discussion about creating comics on the artistic and writing side as well as some critical discussion of the creators and Grant's work.
Sime: We also have one room that's just an art gallery, so if you care about original art you can go and oogle it.
One thing that stood out to us when we heard about the particulars of the show is that it's happening the same weekend and I think maybe even on the same block as the new Las Vegas Comic Expo, which features some Grant collaborators like JG Jones and David Finch. Is this just happenstance that the two shows have synched up, and are you coordinating some events at all with those folks?
Sime: This happened totally by accident. Cosmic coincidence! [Laughter] Because Vegas hasn't had a show in years, it seemed like open territory to everybody. So we didn't find out about them or them about us until after all the venue contracts were signed. But we have talked to them, and I think there's an opportunity for some cool collaboration there. We haven't quite gotten to that stage in the conversation yet, but we're 100% open to that idea.
Overall, what sense have you gotten from Grant in terms of what he wants out of this show? Has he taken your initial idea and done anything with it that you didn't expect?
Sime: Absolutely. We knew that this was an opportunity for me, Ron and Kirsten to collaborate with Grant Morrison. I don't know how seriously you'd take that, but I take it about as seriously as a man can. I'm not a comic book artist or a comic book publisher, but I thought this was our chance to collaborate with Grant and Kristan, and they're brilliant people. We expected them to take a very active role, and it's been very exciting to see what they bring to it. They love this, and they're really excited about it. It is Grant's name on the con, so they want it to be the most mind-blowing of conventions. One of the things that I hadn't even though about was that Grant and Kristan want to bring a lot of their friends as unannounced guests, and I can't tell you who those people are, but I can tell you there will be some surprises because Grant and Kristan know EVERYBODY.
Richards: I didn't quite know what to expect going into this in terms of how much Grant would look to us to drive and steer it, but they've been involved every step of the way. We're calling Kristan in just a few minutes to go over all the programming and ideas. So all the work we do goes through them. The collaboration for me has been mind-blowing.
Sime: It's great to have people to work with who are excited about ideas and doing stuff because that's how I am, and I know that's how Ron is. It's been really fun.
For more information, keep an eye out on MorrisonCon.com!